Navigating a cocktail list isn't always a simple task for Chicagoans, as some stacked menu pages are starting to resemble "War and Peace." Trendy cocktails bars with dense menus and supposedly-creative techniques (let's light something on fire) can come off as pretentious, turning off some drinkers who just want a simple beverage and buzz.
The folks behind The Promontory see this, and think they've figured out a way to address this using illustrations. Their new book "Cocktails for Dingdongs" goes on sale on Monday online here and here. The book resembles a children's story book with drinks recipes and illustrations by Alexandra Ensign, who bartends at The Promontory and also pencils comic books.
"We wanted to make sure people understood what we are doing," Dustin Drankiewicz said, Promontory's bar director. "We are not saving lives by any means, we're putting drinks out and being creative at the same time."
"Dingdongs" is way to poke fun of the stiff drink culture that sometimes surrounds the industry. It sprung from a book kept behind the bar, said Drankiewicz, who also heads up drinks at Dusek's, Punch House and Tack Room. The reserve book was filled with drinks that moved off the bar's rotating, seasonal menu, a way to offer regulars their favorite drinks all year. But it also featured Ensign's off-beat drawings, illustrations she brainstormed with Drankiewicz. The book became so popular that they decided to print and sell copies of a new, enhanced version. This book's full of inside jokes including Wu-Tang Clan, Monsanto and Brony references, and they'll release four volumes annually.
"We did this [at first] as a little joke, a creative outlet for us," Drankiewicz said.
Large menus full of complicated drinks with tons of sometimes-unrecognizable ingredients can repel guests and create stuff atmosphere, Drankiewicz said. There are places like The Aviary, GreenRiver and The Violet Hour where guests know what they're in for, but even then, some may question how serious a bar needs to act. "Parks And Recreation" seemingly chided The Aviary in an episode that aired in 2013. Even Grant Achatz laughed after being called out.
Drankiewicz didn't want to name any competitor bars with vast menus. But he said bars don't need to take themselves so seriously, preferring classic approaches that are bolstered with a modern feel.
"If people want a menu with hundreds of drinks and they're executed properly, man, I give props to the beverage director because it's not an easy thing to create that consistency day in and day out," he said.